Thursday, April 01, 2021

We Don't Use That Word Here

After my adventures with VMLY&R, I moved over to Quicken Loans. This was something I thought I'd never do. Hell, I didn't think they would have ever hired me since I've written so many bad things about Dan Gilbert (the founder of Quicken) over the years. His shenannigans had cost me a pretty penny due to some stock options I had at ePrize years before.

Regardless, somehow I snuck into Quicken -- and landed a director level position at that. Though, it was a bit odd that I was a director reporting to another director rather than a director reporting to a VP. And reporting to that VP as well.

That would change just a few months into me being there. It was a day in October 2019 when I learned that my boss, Sarah, was leaving for another company. That should have been my cue to start looking for another gig. If that wasn't it, then my complete humiliation that same day should have been.

Quicken has a weird corporate culture that tries to pretend it's not corporate. Rather than a "boss", I had a "leader." Rather than a "co-worker", we were all "team members." That same October day I was in a meeting with about 20 strangers where we were going around the table and introducing ourselves. I said, "I'm Mike White and I'm in the Experience Strategy and Design division...." Suddenly I was interrupted by a guy across the table, "We don't say that here!"

I was flummoxed, trying to replay my own words in my head. I started again... "I'm Mike White..." (Did I say that part right?) "And I'm with the ES&D group..." (Maybe he liked abbreviations rather than me saying the whole word). I could see the steam coming out of this guy's ears again when a "team member" next to me said, "We say 'team', not group or division."

I wanted to say, "You gotta be fucking kidding me." Instead I restated who I was for the third time, making sure I said "team" before the next person had their turn. I sad there, my face as red as a beet, flush with adrenaline. I wanted to jump across the table. Instead, I waited until everyone had introduced themselves before leaving the room to compose myself.

That was the beginning of the end. I just didn't know it.

I was on vacation when my boss left. When I came back I was now reporting full time to a veep named JT. He was a nice enough guy but I had a hell of a time understanding him -- as did just about everyone else. It got to the point where I started recording our conversations so I could play them back and try to make sense of them later. I also had been "tricked" a few times by hearing him say one thing but him meaning another. Not only did I have to record and play back his conversations, I had to start writing down what I had heard and send it to him no more than 24 hours after we met. Then he'd add corrections/ammendments to my notes which were meant to clarify but only made me feel like I was being gaslighted.

During one of my meetings with JT, he came out and asked if I thought I was meant to be in my position. Two weeks later he did the same thing as well as saying that I was more suited to a position a few rungs down the ladder. If not that, how about I start looking around the company for another job altogether? This freaked me the fuck out.

I ended up going to HR (of course we don't call it that, it's fancy name is "Team Relation Specialist") and they told me how I was just one of many people having issues with JT. We ended up setting up a meeting between me, JT, and his boss, Rebecca. We cleared the air a bit and JT assured me that he wasn't trying to threaten me with his suggestion... "I'm new to this culture," he would say, even after he'd been at Quicken for a year. At least my "team" faux pas was only six months after I had joined.

I kept my distance from JT as much as possible after that. He moved me literally across the floor to work with the "Partner" team. I was just starting to get into the swing of things when the global pandemic hit. Right around that time, too, I could tell that Rebecca had been busting his chops. He seemed frazzled and my HR person's assurances to "Act like JT isn't your boss," felt like they were carrying more and more weight.

When we went into the pandemic, I was still the director of UX Strategy at Quicken. JT was my boss and I had quite a few people reporting to me. JT was the kind of guy who liked to switch stuff up all the time, whether things worked or not. He would get frustrated at me because I was more of the "wait and see" person. I would do trial periods of things rather than just knee-jerk decisions that would upset the apple cart every few months. Obviously, the pandemic upset the apple cart quite a bit.

My primary concern when the pandemic hit was to try and maintain a sense of normalcy while checking in with my people quite often. I encouraged people to take time off, to not get stressed about this new world we were thrust into, and to keep me in mind if they needed to talk. I continued to be in meetings nearly 8 hours every day so I didn't feel very lonely. If anything, I was getting "Zoom Fatigue" from being on camera all day. More than half of my time was in meetings, the rest of the time was spent talking with my folks.

A few weeks into the pandemic, my HR person's advice came to fruition. No more JT as my boss. I was now reporting directly to Rebecca. One of the first conversations we had was at my review where she hand't worked with me at all and just delivered what JT had written about me. He liked to portray me as weak and indecisive.

A few months after the pandemic started I had a really bad week:

  • One of my reports and her reports were having a series of miscommunications. I thought I defused the situation and set up a meeting with our HR person to talk things out.
  • I was having a lot of issue with one of the people I worked with -- he liked to talk down to and bully my co-workers. I made mention of this to Rebecca in a meeting. "He's really good at managing projects but not so good at managing people."
  • A leader in another division contacted me to see about moving two people from their area over to my area. Made total sense to me and it seemed to be fitting with the plans of another director so I started that process going. There was one stipulation, that one of the people coming over would be getting a promotion. I talked to Rebecca about this and she said that no one would be coming over in a leadership position. I had to go back to the guy who was asking and tell him this -- running from one side to another like a damned middle-man. That didn't fly with him, esp. as he had told the person that they'd be getting a promotion. So, back I went to Rebecca...

"Did you not ask this question before? You're not acting like a director!" She read the the riot act about this situation which really caused by a lack of communication between Rebecca and another director. There was another major communication gap between the two that had come up that same week. Rebecca also told me that I had handled the situation with my report and her report. And, last but not least, I shouldn't have "spoken out" about the bully co-worker like I had. I felt like I was just handed the shit end of the stick and most of the shit on it was hers.

She "politely encouraged" me to step down as director and take a role as a Team Leader.

I knew this was a losing battle so I conceded.

Demotion One

The next time we spoke, two days later, she let me know what kind of pay cut I'd be getting. This was news to me.

So, I was now making $7K less than I was the week before (less than I had been making at VMLY&R), and now reporting to someone that used to report to me.

I spun it as "I'm stepping down as director to spend more time with the Partner team."

That was all well and good until the end of 2020 when we finally got a replacement for JT. More than a replacement, it was replacements. I spoke with the User Experience portion of the two-headed director just a few times one-on-one. I was often in meeting with him and his other half dicussing how we were going to reorganize the team. Funnily enough, the idea of the reorganization was exactly the same as what two of my "team mates" and I were working on. But, no one said that or gave credit where it was due.

The reorganization came and I noticed a very funny thing: no where on the presentation of the new structure could I see my name. It was like I had been fired by ommission.

No, no, no... that's overreacting of course. No, it was all clarified at 4:30 on a Friday when the two halves of the director met with me to ask where I wanted to be. "Would you rather be a UX Designer or a UX Researcher?" I made a pitch that I would be great in a QA (quality assurance) role. Nope. That was quickly brushed aside.

The next Monday I met with them again and said, "Out of the two positions, I think I'd be a better UX Designer." "Great," they said, and made me a UX Researcher.

That was when I knew I had been set up for failure.

Demotion Two

Not only was I supposed to be a UX Researcher but I was supposed to be among the best. Here was something that I hadn't done, hadn't been trained to do, and I was supposed to be great at it. "You've got thirty days and then we'll revisit this."

Spoiler alert: Thirty days passed and I never heard from them. I never had another (two on one or one on one) meeting with him again.

After I wasn't a Team Leader anymore the touch-base meetings with the whole team went away. The re-organization put people in places where I no longer saw most of my co-workers. I went from 8 hours of meetings a day to maybe 1 or 2. Nearly a year after the pandemic started, I suddenly felt the loneliness that I had tired my best to help my reports from feeling.

Sixty days later, I ended up hearing from my new boss (this is the fifth one!) who had also reported to me when they started less than a year before. I was told that I should be doing a much better job at the position I hadn't asked to be in.

Two weeks after that I saw that my boss had made some notes in my personnel area. What I read there sealed the deal. I knew that I was going to get demoted for a third time if I didn't do something soon. I learned that:

  1. I was only taking on easy projects (I was taking on projects that were assigned to me).
  2. I was asking for help from my fellow researchers (I thought this was called collaboration).
  3. I was ignoring my boss's feedback (I had acted on every point they ever gave me).
  4. I wasn't presenting things at our weekly learning sessions (as I'm learning the job myself, I didn't feel like I could contribute anything).

I found out in this post to my record that I had been given a verbal warning (the first of three steps in firing). I didn't know I got a verbal warning. Again, I felt like I was beign set-up.

I began looking for a new job in earnest.

I managed to get a job with Quicken's biggest competitor in the "Partner" space. I had heard that anyone who moved there would be "dead to" the rest of the team so I held my tongue after I put in my two week's notice.

That is, until my exit interview.

The Exit Interview

I wanted to unload all of the above and more at my exit interview but didn't. I thought I'd go out gracefully. No use burning bridges. Plus, nothing I would say would be taken seriously. I was just bitter and holding a grudge, right?

So, I let it slip in my exit interview where I was going. That was at 2PM yesterday.

At 3PM I missed a few messages via Teams from my boss and their boss -- the same one who wanted to connect after I put in my notice but never made the effort to actually do it.

This morning when I got up, I was excited for my last day at Quicken. I was going to clean up my laptop before sending it back, say goodbye to the Partner team at 11:45AM and then have a lunch with my fellow UX people at noon to say goodbye to them.

That was the plan.

The reality was that when I got up at 9:24 (why not sleep in, it's my last day?), I had a 9:30 meeting waiting for me with my boss.

When I signed in, I found her and another HR person waiting. Without any explanation I was told that I was no longer needed at Quicken. I was to sign off as soon as the meeting was over and close my computer. This was less than three hours before my farewell lunch and basically I was getting fired on my last day. At least, that's how it felt.

The day I got humiliated for not saying "team" should have been the beginning of the end but, after all that, I ended up exactly where JT wanted a year and a half before. It felt like he had been working behind-the-scenes the whole time to bring his plan to fruition. I know that sounds paranoid but I know my boss's boss spent a lot more time talking to JT than he ever did to me.

It was a dick move but not out of character.